Three Failing Business Practices of the Professional Photographer

Three Failing Business Practices of the Professional Photographer


I’ve written a couple times before about photographer A (artsy fartsy) and photographer B (‘B’ for all business). If you’re going to have a successful photography business and not be a starving artist, it’s essential to fuse these two qualities into one artistic and business minded brain. If you’re photographer A, you’re going to get creative in your business ways. You’re going to be artsy in your pricing (are you a minimalist who ends all your prices in 0’s? Or are you quirky with prices that all end in 8’s?) You’re going to artsy in your presentation. And you’re going to be artsy in your you-and-them practices. It’s these practices where use group A’ers can find difficulty.

So here are 3 business dont’s I learned from experience.

{Making yourself sound too busy}

When I started taking bookings for my pre-arranged studio dates, I would stress to the clients that my my diary was extremely booked so they needed to book early and take their booking seriously. We confirmed via phone/email. Sometimes I took a deposit. What was wrong with admitting that I was really booked up? They thought they could just not show up and it wouldn’t matter. I had a (hold onto your seats) 80-90% no-show rate for about 6 months. Even from friends. And when they did text (sometimes 30 minutes after I started sitting there waiting for them) they’d say things like ‘oh, it’s ok we’ll make room for someone else’. And when it was a no-show-no-call, the only thing I could imagine was that they were thinking that I’m so snowed under with work that I wouldn’t notice. What they didn’t take into account is that by ‘extremely booked’, I was saying that the 5 sessions I opened on this one day a month was filling up. This was utterly infuriating and very damaging for my productivity and cash flow. Lesson? Don’t make yourself sound so busy that your clients think they can just tip toe out the back door and you won’t notice. Solution? Say whatever you want about your calendar and just get a substantial deposit (I take the whole session fee on booking) when you make the date. I make it very clear: you don’t have a booking until I have a financial commitment.

{Making your schedule sound wide-open}

Something I learned quickly was not to say “oh my diary looks like a snowstorm, pick any date you want”. What does that say to your client? No one wants me. I’m not popular. I’m not in demand. My time is worth nothing. When you get an email or phone consult, give them a choice of two dates. Say, “I have a opening on such-and-such date how does that work for you?” This lets them know from the get-go that you are in demand and your time is precious. Now, this isn’t lying to your client. I wouldn’t take the extra step of saying, “Oh gosh I’m just so booked up” when you’re really not. You could run into the first problem mentioned and not actually have any other work to fall back on or just look like a snob. Solution? Don’t post things on your Facebook page that say “gee nothing booked for ages. Who wants a session?” Let everyone know what you’re up to. “Another wedding today”. “Photographed gorgeous newborn this morning!” your busy-business will speak for itself if you’re truly working up a storm.

{Being overly professional}

Going back to that first point about making myself sound too busy. In my effort to sound busy, I also sounded a bit to…I guess…corporate. Like Glacier Cake was some big photo studio and not just little old me sitting in a rented room waiting for my no-shows to not show up. If you can produce the quality of work your clients expect, it’s ok to have small beginnings. But if you’re just a girl with a camera, be a girl with a camera. You can be business savvy without sounding corporate or overly professional. When clients let you down on the session or show for the session but don’t buy a single photo, maybe it’s because they don’t remember that you’re a person. They don’t feel like they’re letting anyone down or wasting anyone’s time. They feel like they can slip out the back door without anyone noticing. Lesson? Don’t make your operation sound bigger than it is. Don’t write ‘we’ on your website when it’s really just you. And pleaseforgoodnesssake don’t write about yourself in the third person (“Elizabeth Halford is a photographer in Hampshire, England…”) Solution? If your business is just you, then be yourself! Make a personal connection. Meet your clients and tell them a little about your kids, too. Laugh with them, have a tea when you sit down to talk. This is a business about people. And people connect with people. And if you just shoot landscapes? Well I wouldn’t really suggest sitting down for a cup of tea with a mountain. That might just be weird.

{A few extra tips}

  • When you make a date with someone in person, write the time in your diary but hand it over and let them write their name and phone number next to it. Psychologically, they’re committing to the date and sort of signing on the dotted line.
  • Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. If you can learn from a successful business person the practices that have been tried and tested, make them your mantra. I highly respect folks like Alicia Caine who is sharing her utterly invaluable pricing information. It has transformed my business because she put the blood, sweat and tears into testing it and – I’m telling you – it just works.
  • Say things over and over. Confirm the booking on the phone. If you do everything by email, you’re just a voiceless, faceless person who they might not take seriously. After confirming the date over the phone, confirm via email and request that they reply. Then a couple days before, kindly remind them of their reservation via phone, email or text.

Photography has been an intensely rewarding career and I enjoy everything about it, even the nitty gritty business bits. It can be exhausting to figure out what works and what doesn’t but once you do and you get things running fluidly, photographer A can resume as usual.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Maryellen Miller February 11, 2012 01:08 am

    Tea with a mountain sounds wonderful to me actually. Just don't pour any tea FOR the mountain. It might attract ants.

    Thanks for the giggle in the midst of all the good advice.

  • Gregory Synstelien May 27, 2011 03:54 am

    Excellent advice. Fits me to a T!

  • Rachel Twitchett October 8, 2010 09:36 am

    thanks for that little bit of helpful advice there, its making me feel more confident of my little up and coming buisness which is slowly coming together day by day, so true what you are saying about photographer A and photographer B there needs to be a happy medium to make it work properly

  • Life with Kaishon September 27, 2010 01:44 am

    This was really helpful! LOVED this post. Thanks so much : )

  • Keith September 26, 2010 10:29 pm

    Sitting down and having a cup of tea of coffee with the mountain sounds quite nice. Think about it. Time for reflection and to bask in the beauty of this wonderful creation. it may spark the creativity of the A and quite possibly chill out the B.

  • Karen Stuebing September 25, 2010 09:56 pm

    @Jason, I am not a professional photographer. The avenue I choose to sell is to have an online gallery which is kind of a stock photography gallery. So most of my sales are for print publications. I have several bios which are written in the third person to fit whatever the publication is. As I said before, writing in the first person just isn't appropriate for publications.

    I was taken aback by one of the comments above where the poster decided this article was so spot on, he was going to learn people skills before photography. If I'm reading it right.

    If you can't take a decent photo, whatever the subject (I'm not referring to you :), then I don't care however good you are at establishing rapport, people are going to get upset with you.

    Back OT. Here is a web page from a local professional photographer that I personally would give my money too. Check out his formal and informal portraiture. That requires skill and knowledge.

    I happen to also know him and he's a very nice person too but for a portrait like that, I wouldn't care if he was some kind of jerk.

    And here is his bio. Which I think is a bit too long but it is written in the third person.

  • Jason Collin Photography September 24, 2010 02:21 pm

    Nice lively debate on the 1st person vs. 3rd person topic. How about photographers with actual ABOUT/BIO pages on their business websites post links to them so we can see some real world example of 1st vs 3rd person?

    To my own surprise my ABOUT page (written by myself) is actually a hybrid of 1st & 3rd person:

    I got the idea to title one section "Your Photographer" from some other photographer-business website, can't remember where.

  • Leo Mangubat September 24, 2010 04:23 am

    This is more of being a real person and humility as being a very good or popular photographer can a lot of times make us big headed which will start to create walls instead bridges to our clients. I will study photography once i've learned to practice this!!! THANKS FOR THE REMINDER! This is great!

  • John Parli Photo September 24, 2010 03:48 am

    Great stuff here, lots of which could be debated but still great. I too have heard contradictory stories about this whole third and first person thing... I would just say, what do YOU personally like. It's all about being yourself, so long as your not an a$$ or anything. On a separate note... is Alicia's stuff really worth the price? Not being rude here, just honestly curious. Seems quite pricey.

    All The Best!

  • Robin September 24, 2010 03:35 am

    Great tips, thank you. The business end is the part I'm really struggling with, it takes a lot of behind the scenes work and money really makes it go faster, but I have none. I'm just doing one step at a time, next step is to start putting galleries up for clients to purchase from.

  • Joe September 24, 2010 01:32 am

    I agree with the 3rd person thing.. its arrogant and offputting.

  • Karen Stuebing September 23, 2010 09:39 pm

    @Jason, I agree with you and your marketing person. I have also read that a third person bio sounds more professional.

    I recently had to provide a bio along with a head shot for a magazine using one of my photos. I used third person because first person would have just sounded weird in that context.

    Which brings me to another tip not mentioned here. Have a good traditional style head shot. I didn't. Only artsy fartsy ones. So I had to scramble to get a "normal" head shot because that's what they wanted.

    It might be worth the money to have an advertising person write your bio and a studio shoot your head shot. That is if you are a pro with a solid business already. I think Jason is. I've looked at his photos and they are super. So I would follow his advice.

  • Wayfaring Wanderer September 23, 2010 11:10 am

    Uh oh! I'm already guilty of #2 on the list.

    I've been telling folks that I am totally flexible and have lots of free time right now! haha

    Of course, I'm just getting started and the people I am telling this to are friends who are giving me business, but it is great to read your perspective so that I can get out of that nasty habit immediately!


  • dana September 23, 2010 05:41 am

    Regarding the third persion vs first person bio:
    I definately don´t like third persons bios except for true third persons wrote it.
    It normally doesn´t sound any near authentic - or at the least the ones I read and instantly knew it wasn´t another person´s writing. It often feels just showy and wannabe like, and also a bit embarrasing.
    I like people who stand for themselves and dare to say "that´s me".

    Awards: You can simply list your awards without saying "I" won this and that.

    I thought the tips here to be very useful, thanks!

  • Kat Landreth September 23, 2010 05:23 am

    @Jason Collin Photography- I personally don't like writing in the third person. Reading a bio that's written in the third person makes me wonder who wrote it and why especially if the rest of the site is in the first person.

    She's in a completely different industry but check out Deb from Smitten Kitchen's about page. It's all in the first person, and it's very warm and inviting writing. She lists awards and accomplishments at the end of the page rather than incorporating them with paragraph form, so she avoids sounding pretentious. And she even admits in the heading that the list is "Tasteless Braggery". It's honest and funny and it makes me happy that she's received those awards.

    Or maybe get someone else to actually write a testimonial or bio for you so people don't end up wondering "who wrote this?".

    This is just a different approach if you're unsure about what the marketing guy told you.

  • Jason Collin Photography September 23, 2010 04:46 am

    @chris -- a marketing person I spoke with recently did say to write your bio/about page in the third person.

    Does anyone else have an opinion on writing your bio/about page in first or third person?

    To me, I think third person just sounds more professional. First person bios are for your person Facebook page or a dating website. Plus, it can sound less pretentious using third person. Instead of saying "I" won this award, etc, using the third person makes it sound less like bragging.

  • Chris September 23, 2010 04:39 am

    I like the part about don't refer to yourself in third person! A little personability goes a long way...

  • Kat Landreth September 23, 2010 03:51 am

    Thanks for the advice.

    Seems like the take home message here is don't let them slip out the back door. Let them know you're a real person who is in some way (financially or otherwise) hurt when appointments are missed and time is wasted.

    I'm starting to see these sorts of tactics showing up in big business. Like the personal style blogs that so many large companies have now. They're trying to put a real face on a big faceless company so the consumer feels connected to, and responsible for, the well being of the company. That just goes to show that a real live person, especially a sole proprietor or one man LLC, can capitalize on that real human face of theirs.

    Thanks so much for the eye opener.

  • CHPTERSimages (Khairil F. Jamian) September 23, 2010 03:49 am

    This is really great. Thank you Elizabeth!

  • Jason Collin Photography September 23, 2010 03:48 am

    Just last night a little voice in my head told me to erase what I had just started to write in an e-mail to a new prospective client about having all week days free during a certain week (relatively) and instead saying I have this time on Monday, this time on Tuesday. I think giving clients too much choice general choice will delay things. I agree in offering two specific dates and times.

  • Photography courses September 23, 2010 02:13 am

    Personally, I actually fall more into the 'B' category but still found this very useful. It's nice to read about your experiences and hear real examples of how things worked out for you. Its interesting to get some insight into how people perceive and respond to certain ways of expressing how much work you have.

    I also really like the advice to be who you are. I always think its funny when one person writes about their company as if they're a full team of people.

  • Arun September 23, 2010 01:31 am

    Nice post.

    I've always been arguing inside my head - the 'to be or not to be' debate!

    This has helped a lot. Will think over, and try to imbibe your helpful tips!2

  • hfng September 22, 2010 11:50 pm

    I'm soooo busy I don't have time to read this article ;)

  • Shannon September 22, 2010 08:54 pm

    Great info! I need to find that balance between looking busy and not busy. Right now I'm on the not busy side. I especially love the tip to be myself. I tend to try to look bigger and more professional than I am. The extra tips are great as well, such as the one where you have them write their info in your planner. I'm totally going to start putting these into practice.


  • Shannon September 22, 2010 08:45 pm

    Great info. These are things I've thought about and struggled to keep a balance with (the busy not busy stuff). I love the tip about having your client write their own name and number in your planner. I'm definately going to start doing that. It shows them the commitment but also makes sure that the info is correct. I definately need to keep in mind to be myself.

    Thanks so much!

  • Michel September 22, 2010 04:49 pm

    Thanks for your personal tips. Me too I'd like to keep things clear. Like don't act very busy when you're not and don't say 'we' when it's only you running the business.
    A few other tips that might fit in this is wear clothes that suit the occasion. Don't overdress nor wear dirty clothes. Try to find find out whom you have an appointment with and what type of people they are.
    Make sure your car is clean an tidy. And also clean your nails.


  • Light Stalking September 22, 2010 03:10 pm

    Good article. So many photographers seem to struggle with the business side of things. :(

  • Kathryn Cole September 22, 2010 09:42 am

    Great article!

  • Paul "pabloconrad' Conrad September 22, 2010 07:29 am

    Great advice and thanks for posting.

    I must heed the happy medium of "too busy" or "wide open."

    Thank again.